Democrats accused of invading GOP primary

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, June 10, 2010

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The GOP front-runner for the gubernatorial nomination is already accusing a top Democrat of trying to hijack a July runoff that will determine who will run in the fall.

Voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primary on June 1 can legally cross over and vote in the Republican runoff on July 13, so they could play a pivotal role.

Front-runner and former two-year college chancellor Bradley Byrne is pointing at longtime foe Paul Hubbert, saying he is trying to influence the vote. Hubbert is executive secretary of the powerful state teachers’ organization and a vice chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

Alabama Education Association funded ads in the primary criticizing Byrne. After he led the primary, the group made phone calls to its members to remind them that the Republican runoff is open to all voters — even those who participated in the Democratic primary.

Hubbert said his organization made the calls because 35 percent of its members are Republicans and 15 percent to 20 percent are independents.

“To me, that’s just encouraging good citizenship. I would hope everybody votes,” Hubbert said.

Byrne sees a sinister side.

“Democrats are trying to hijack the runoff and their purpose is to defeat me,” he said.

To state Republican Party Chairman Mike Hubbard, Hubbert is crossing the line, especially since the teacher’s association’s No. 2 official is also a Democratic Party vice chairman.

“They are a Democratic organization. They are a wing of the Democratic Party,” Hubbard said.

The association’s chief said his organization has not decided what role, if any, it will take in the runoff next month between Byrne and Robert Bentley, a legislator and physician who used to be best known as Paul “Bear” Bryant’s doctor until he finished in second in the seven-man primary.

No matter what it decides, money won’t be a factor. The association recently filed a finance report showing it has $1.9 million to spend on the runoff.

That’s after spending $3.9 million on the primary. Part of it helped AEA-backed candidate Ron Sparks win the Democratic nomination for governor and part paid for the ads portraying Byrne as a trial lawyer — a profession anathema to many Republicans.

“Dr. Hubbert has already shown he’s trying to influence the outcome of our primary,” the GOP chairman said.

Hubbert has run the teacher’s group for 40 years and is one of the most influential men in Alabama, including serving as the Democratic nominee for governor in 1990 and donating millions to candidates each election. Republicans have won five out of the last six governor’s races.

The group has accused Byrne of waging a “war against our schools,” and Byrne has called AEA a “corrupting influence” that stands for the worst in the teaching profession.

Their feuding goes back to Byrne’s service as the two-year college chancellor. He battled the organization to establish criminal background checks for college employees and to ban the employees from serving in the Legislature after this year’s elections.

Bentley has had a friendlier relationship, including recently voting to stop a bill that would have legalized charter schools. He also got a $10,000 donation from AEA early in his campaign.

Bryne says AEA would have the best of both worlds with Bentley and Sparks in the general election.

“Dr. Bentley has always been one of the legislators they could count on,” he said.

Bentley declined to respond to Byrne’s criticism, but earlier in the campaign he said a governor must work with all influential people in Montgomery, including Hubbert, to be successful.

“I will not make this a fight with any one person or any one group. We all need to work together to make Alabama a better place,” he said.

Alabama is one of eight states, mostly in the Southeast, that have primary runoffs. The Alabama Democratic Party’s rules don’t allow people who voted in the Republican primary to cross over and participate in its runoffs, but the Republican Party’s rules do allow crossover voting.